Osheaga Founder Nick Farkas Talks Beats 1 Partnership, Running Canada’s Reigning Top Festival

With Montreal’s Osheaga Music & Arts Festival kicking off Friday (Aug. 3) and running through the Sunday, founder Nick Farkas has a busy weekend ahead. Still, he took the time Friday morning to speak with Billboard about the festival’s new deal with Apple Music’s Beats 1 that brings British broadcaster Matt Wilkinson on-site for interview segments to air throughout the week starting Monday on his daily two-hour show.

Now in it’s 13th year, Osheaga reigns atop Canada’s music festivals, ranking the country’s most successful live event last year, according to Billboard Boxscore. With Beats 1 onboard, that reach will span further internationally with greater potential for growth, as the festival plans to return to its original location in Parc Jean-Drapeau next year once the city’s renovation is complete. 

Parkas, who is also vice-president concerts and events with promoter evenko and was honored in this year’s International Power Players List, spoke about what it means bringing Beats 1 to the festival, what fans can expect this year, what makes the Quebec festival unique and more. 

Is the partnership with Apple Music’s Beats 1 exclusive?

Yes, in that category, for sure. The really exciting thing for us is they’ve only really done it at Primavera [in Spain]. They’ve done stuff at South by Southwest but not at this level. So it’s really exciting for us to have this to such an international region from Apple, it’s fun to be involved with something of this scope with them.

The show will be available in 100 different countries and bring more attention to Osheaga and the city of Montreal.

Totally. Apple/iTunes have been partners off and on since we started. So when they came back to us with this idea of being much more integrated — they sponsored a stage this year but having a huge promotional aspect for them and us is the ideal partnership for us. We continue to expand. We do 75 percent of our people from outside of Quebec. We’re moving to a new, bigger site next year. The idea of being more international is a huge priority for us.

Have they sponsored stages in the past?

They were a partner early on, doing playlists and stuff. Apple only recently as a company started to sponsor us. This is the first time.

How does this affect the other media who are coming in for the event and their access to artists?

I don’t think it impacts. Everybody goes out and gets their own interviews anyway. We have 400 media coming from all over the world. I think a lot of them cover the event; some try to get interviews. It’s a bit different because they’re doing interviews to be aired on a show at a later date. So it’s not like we’re saying you have to prioritize Apple. They’re doing their own thing. They’re getting their own interviews, as are every other media outlet, and obviously we try to help people if they don’t have the contacts but it’s not branded Apple Music Festival. It’s just one of many partners at the event and I don’t see it impacting other people’s access. There’s no “You have to do this” and they’re not saying, “You can only do an interview with us.” 

How is this weekend shaping up?

This year is shaping up great. We sold out Saturday and Sunday. Today is close to selling out, so hopefully we’ll sell out today. 

How many tickets is that?

45,000 per day. 

How is the new site?

It’s the site just being redone. I was actually checking out the new site the day before yesterday, which is a huge construction site but just getting a scope of the size and what they’re doing and all the plans, it looks fantastic. I believe it’s going to be one of the premiere festival sites, event sites, in North America. It’s really well thought out, can accommodate huge crowds as well as small crowds, really flexible, versatile space. The city is doing a really great job. Once people see it, they’re going to be really impressed. 

Can it accommodate more than 45,000?

Yes. It’s scalable from 5,000 to 65,000.

Are there a couple of unique features that it will have that other festival sites don’t?

The uniqueness is the setting more than anything. It’s on an island between Montreal and the South Shore, so the uniqueness is it’s literally a small island in the middle of Saint Lawrence River. It looks out on the city. The view from the site towards the city is going to be spectacular. There’s a Metro stop right there, so 90 percent of the people that come to our show can come by Metro. So it’s unique in that it’s a festival site that is surrounded by trees and water in an urban setting that is still accessible by subway and five minutes away from downtown. That’s what made Osheaga and all our festivals out there so special. 

Festival d’été, in Quebec City, is able to charge $100 [CAD] for all 11 days. Clearly most festivals don’t do that. How are they able to do that and you’re not, in the same province? 

Different model. They’re an 11-day festival, three bands a day [on main stage]. We’re 110 bands over three days. We have seven stages, two massive massive massive stages and two really big stages and three other stages. So it’s a different scale of event and a different style of event. The Ottawa Blues Festival is similar to d’été,. The Jazz Festival here is more similar to what d’été, does; it’s over a 10-day period.

So nothing to do with tourism dollars, government funding?

It’s a different. Our model is based on ticket sales. We get government money as well, but its different proportions for what they do. I don’t compare the two of them because 11 day festival with one stage that can hold up to 110,000 people; they’re going for massive volume of people. It’s not a free festival but when you’re charging $10 [CAD] a day, for intensive purposes, and you can switch your wristband with whoever you want to, it’s just a completely different model and not what we were interested in. We have the [Montreal International] Jazz Festival, we have Just For Laughs, there’s a lot of big free festivals in Montreal already. It’s like comparing an arena show to a theatre show; they’re completely different models.

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